Forget Ron Washington. The Problem With This Rangers Team Is Its Pitching Rotation.
Baseball and Twitter don't blend. They're 5W-30 motor oil and vitriol. And despite vitriol sounding like a magical elixir that might cure headaches and anxiety all at the same time, the fact is that these two items will never combine to form a stable concoction.
We can force it as best our Internet savvy allows, but the facts remain: One is a six-month (or seven, if we're lucky) psychological warfare that assaults the very concept of patience; the other is
an information superhighway the Wild West of the Internet, where dog faces communicate with cartoon faces in real time, like a central nervous system reacting to a strained muscle.
(Oh, and let me profess something before it's assumed that I'm simply judging here: I'm the worst when it comes to Twitter. Seriously. You can find more preachy bullcrap like this on my own Twitter account.)
Here's my point: The fulcrum for much of the Texas Rangers talk on Twitter is Ronald Washington. Wash, Old School Brother, CigaRon — whatever you want to call him — is the lightning rod.
There's a genuine belief out there that Blake from Grand Prairie (sorry to all you Blakes out there) understands the game of baseball better than a man that broke into the major leagues the same year that the original Star Wars was released. That's always made me uncomfortable. The truth is that baseball is largely luck. I'm sure you didn't want to hear that, but I've made, like, 25 keystrokes since then, so there's no turning back.
Why is it so difficult for us, as fans, to respect Ron Washington? We've made it effortless to demean the guy in recent years by turning him into a cartoon character — both figuratively and literally. The cigarettes in the dugout don't help. Neither does the whole cocaine thing.
But the concept that always goes understated is that baseball players are not like you and me. We don't relate to them. We can't: The typical baseball player is a degree-less millionaire that's spent the majority of his waking hours in a confined space with other man-sized little boys.
They're not dumb, no. But they're also not the most mature human beings that you'll stumble across.
If Ron has a way of getting the best out of these guys in the face of the six-month torture chamber that they're carted through annually, then I don't care if you don't agree with his decision to have Elvis Andrus bunt in the third inning of game 123 because it's genuinely a strategy that he believes will help his team win this game. If you want your face rubbed in some mess of straight bunt facts, Robert Pike wrote an interesting study into what bunts mean to an offense last week. It basically says that bunts are good. Or, at the very least, that they aren't harmful.
So let's all agree to attempt to appreciate Wash for at least the first couple months of this coming season. If you're still angry at him then, I've really done all I can do, and that's just on you as a person. You'll be forgetting the fact that we're at a really good place as an organization and that Wash is a big part of that. I certainly haven't forgotten the 70-win seasons of the early 2000s. And we can all agree that baseball is zero fun when your team sucks and it's 400 degrees out.
You want to bitch about something on Twitter as the Rangers head into the 2014 season? Try the pitching staff, which maybe isn't as stable as everyone is pretending it is.
Look around the league right now. It's all puppy dogs and ice cream. Every team in major league baseball is planning — or at least hoping — to have its pitching rotation intact by the time the playoffs come around. But that never happens. Consider this: If you're a top 10 team in baseball, and at least four of the five guys that you have penciled in for 30-pus starts at the beginning of spring training actually make 30-plus starts, we'll pretty much see you in the World Series. Really. It is that simple.
Far as the Rangers go, the guys you'd hope could make that 30-plus start list heading into this offseason for the Rangers were Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison and Martin Perez. But you know what happened to Holland. And Harrison, who was injured for too long a stretch last year, still has to prove to us all that he's OK to be throwing a baseball for a week straight without getting shut down before we can really expect anything.
So, how about this? Let's walk through the options of how the Rangers can get from Inning One to Inning Seven without trying to blind us all via moonshine overdose, which is very much a real thing, I think.
One potential positive sign is that Colby Lewis is back and throwing after his hip resurfacing surgery — something that no other baseball player has ever rehabbed from. Better yet, he's reportedly added a few miles per hour to his arm thanks to a longer stride via the new hip flexibility. Still, this is the same Colby Lewis that's 35 years old and thrown all of 129 innings in professional baseball in two-plus calendar years.
Nick Tepesch, meanwhile, could easily be slid into the rotation, where he'll bring with him his 4.87 ERA and complete inability to get anybody out that is left-handed. Look it up: Lefties have a .293 batting average against the guy.
We can expect Alexi Ogando to be called upon to soak up some of these innings, I'm sure. And he'll bring a good strikeout rate (19.5 percent!) with him. And he won't walk too many people, either. But then June will roll around, he'll melt into the mound and we'll all be left wondering if he'll ever escape this goddamn fourth inning before hitting the DL. We've seen that movie too many times before to expect a different outcome.
Oh, and despite Tommy Hanson putting up some insane strikeout totals his first two-plus seasons in the bigs, he hasn't been right since June of 2011 — and that includes a ratchet run in 2013 with the Angels in which he failed to go 5-plus innings in eight of his 13 starts.
And Robbie Ross? He doesn't have a third pitch. Hell, he barely has a second pitch. His slider was a wreck last year.
Just today, the Rangers brought lefty Joe Saunders into the mix to try calm this whole very shaky situation somewhat. But that's funny because Joe Saunders is just not a very good baseball player.
Could it be that the answer is Neftali Feliz, who once was a starter but has since been moved into the role of shut-down closer of late? I actually think that's a genius move. His time in the rotation wasn't what caused the UCL injury that forced his Tommy John surgery in 2012. I'm pretty sure that was just coincidence. Let's not forget that he was borderline amazing as a starter in 2012, posting a 3.02 ERA and a gaudy 21 percent strikeout rate despite an insanely high walk rate of 4.97 per 9 innings.
Here's what we do know: There are roughly 1,000 innings that have to be pitched by the Rangers' starters this season. How many of those can be quality?
When the Rangers faced this situation last season in the wake of Matt Harrison's back issues early in the season, they managed to navigate the murky waters with the duct tape crew of Ogando, Tepesch, sorcery, Justin Grimm, Ross Wolf, Josh Lindblom and black magic — until they traded for Matt Garza (now on the Milkwaukee Brewers) late in July. Oh, and let's not forget that they still didn't make the playoffs.
What kind of tricks does pitching coach Mike Maddux have in store for us this year? I have no idea.
But until we see those sleights of hand — or is it arm? — in action, maybe that's what we fans should be tweeting about.
Cover photo via the Rangers' Twitter account.